reading Revelation

Cano, “Image of St. John”, 1635

Year C – Second Sunday of Easter, April 15, 2007
Revelation 1:4-8

How did the author of Revelation, John, intend this book to be read? As Gordon Fee and Douglas Stuart point out in their wonderful _How to Read the Bible Book by Book_, there are two key things to keep in mind.

First, take seriously John’s own description of this book: “the words of this prophecy” (v. 3). What John means is that everything he is writing is to be viewed in terms of fulfillment of the Old Testament.

Second, appreciate the nature and purpose of apocalyptic literature. Apocalyptic literature is primary fantasy: something like what can only be conveyed in a contemporary comic book. There are fantastic images, but the point of the images is not to be found so much in the little details, but rather in the whole picture as a composite. The composite is meant to say something about what is ultimately real, and what connects the present with the future.

As the _New Bible Commentary_ (IVP) points out, there have traditionally been four approachеs to interpreting this book:

  • the Preterist approach: the book applies solely to the events of the author’s own day
  • the Futurist approach: the book applies only to the last generation of history
  • the Historical approach: the book is meant to outline the ages between Christ’s first coming and second coming
  • the Symbolic approach: the book is meant only to paint general pictures without specific prophetic application to given points in time

Yet just as no one would read Old Testament prophecy by forcing it exclusively into one of these approaches, neither should one force the book of Revelation into such a straightjacket.
Keeping all of this in mind, what then might we take away from Rev. 1:4-8? Maybe that it is in Jesus that our Father has begun to put right all that is wrong with us and our world. This is some very good news. We are not chance products of random purposelessness, but a kingdom of priests living in service to the Alpha and Omega who was, and is, and is to come. Hallelujah!


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